U.S. still wears the shackles of Gitmo:
November 9, 2009
On President Barack Obama’s first day in office, he announced the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A plank in his campaign platform for president, Obama was fulfilling a vow that had no foundation in special interest groups, no lobbyists vying for legislative consideration. This was about undoing a constitutional injustice, restoring our national integrity, and reaffirming the recently jettisoned “due process of law” into our daily civics regimen.
This obvious rebuke of the Bush doctrine is part of what got Obama elected, and surely inspired the Norwegian Nobel Committee to give their ultimate nod to our president. Unfortunately amidst today’s modern political landscape, fear-based rhetoric frightens Americans, getting in the way of the “American way.” In order to steer our legislators back toward our founding principles, we need to understand the legal evolution of circumstances that have led us down this ill-gotten path.
National capitulation toward a watered-down justice system began immediately following the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In a rapid, knee-jerk response, a nation politically divided became momentarily unified under the sophomoric leadership of a newly elected Bush administration.
With what former President George W. Bush referred to as the “awakening of a sleeping giant,” our country went to war. The White House managed to place our Constitution under a wartime siege as Bush signed the U.S. Patriot Act into law, an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter summed up our incredulous national support for this legislation by voting for the act while saying its provision for limitless detention “sets back basic rights by some 900 years” and was “patently unconstitutional on its face.”
How Specter was able to vote for a piece of legislation so obviously at odds with the founding principles of our constitutional framework is a question for the ages. The perplexing phenomenon of bipartisan “blind support” for Bush’s reactionary agenda took us into Afghanistan, and continued through to the Iraq invasion.
The wide sweeping allowances included in the bill pertain to everything having to do with national security from illegal immigration to warrantless wiretapping programs, as well as banking laws, instantly overturning long recognized practices by our national intelligence community. The bill should be repealed, and efforts for this need to begin at the grassroots level. If it’s big government Americans fear most, the masses should find this legislation petrifying.
In fact, the Bush doctrine was so far at odds with conservative principles regarding the needless strengthening of government that it should have caused the Republican National Committee to throw their in-house neo-cons out like yesterday’s newspaper.
Congressional Republicans eventually drafted the Military Commissions Act of 2006, since the Patriot Act only loosely allowed for abusing inalienable human rights. For the first time in 786 years, a western “civilized” nation called into question the once-ironclad legal concept of habeas corpus, which places the burden of proof on those detaining the person to justify the detention.
While the Senate was deciding these aversions to justice-as-we-know-it, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke worldwide, followed shortly thereafter by “waterboarding” allegations at Gitmo. We were now openly engaging in lawless interrogation tactics with suspects being held without trial or legal representation on an illegal detention camp at an unwelcome military installation; a most egregious recipe for modern colonialism, with a hint of the Inquisition.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Article 7 of the Military Commissions Act was in violation of our Constitution. The majority opinion insisted “the Framers viewed freedom from unlawful restraint as a fundamental precept of liberty, and the writ of habeas corpus as a vital instrument to secure that freedom.” So we’re going to trial, and the 230 remaining detainees (which once held over 700) would finally get “due process,” right? Not so fast.
Immediately following Obama’s executive order to close the facility, the Senate overwhelmingly blocked his $80 million funding request by a vote of 96-4. In today’s age of billions and trillions, this was a mere drop in the budgetary bucket. Evidently, processing these detainees contains no guarantees against escape attempts by alleged terrorists from “super-max” custody.
It was at this time that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., explained this was only a delay. “We have a lot of other pieces of legislation moving through here in the next couple of months, and we can take care of it then. We’re only talking about four months. Oct. 1, that’s how long this bill has to go.”
If Americans feel these hard-to-process inmates should avoid U.S. soil at all costs, our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president can supplement his recent overtures of internationalism at the U.N. conference to this end. The International Court of Justice can be called upon to assist with processing prisoners, capable of determining in a non-biased setting whether or not war crimes were actually committed by those in custody.
One repeating charge against several suspected Taliban is “killing an American soldier.” The problem here is that we were invading Afghanistan at the time, and “self-defense” is a true legal stance for a combatant to rest upon. American politics should not replace the Geneva Conventions, which have explicitly laid out the groundwork for prosecuting prisoners-of-war with an application of justice America once exemplified.
Forget that there’s never been a successful “super-max” escape. Forget that we already have international terrorists in American prison cells, safe, secure and punished accordingly. Forget that re-establishing our discredited reputation is essential to maintaining the very national security we hope to maintain.
Our treatment of these “suspected” terrorists has been abhorrent from the jump. Now, opponents of “processing” these inmates suggest indefinitely detaining known “innocents” since their mistreatment has surely “radicalized” their collective attitudes toward American interests, here and abroad. This is fear-based politics causing fear-based policy-making, a contemptuous distortion of a justice system that was once the world’s envy.